‘We need to incentivise farmers not to burn the paddy residue and shift towards alternative crops’
Burning of post-harvest paddy stubble is a significant contributor to north India’s poor air quality and Punjab is one of the big contributors to this source of pollutants. The state’s chief minister Amarinder Singh shares his views with Sanjeev Verma:
Paddy stubble burning incidents this year (52,942 till November 25) have crossed last year’s incidents (51,751) across Punjab despite the state government’s initiatives. What is the way out?
The long-term solution to the problem lies in diversification, to wean the farmers away from paddy cultivation. In the short term, however, we are giving subsidised machines for in-situ management of paddy residue to the farmers. In 2018, a total of 28,000 such machines were given, and another 22,000 in 2019.
However, the use of such machines needs to be incentivised through additional compensation at the rate of Rs 100 per quintal, in addition to MSP (minimum support price), by the central government. We, from the state, started paying compensation to the farmers not indulging in straw burning after the Supreme Court orders but our limited resources make it unviable as a permanent solution. The central government must support.
Why didn’t your compensation initiative work?
Farmers are fully aware about the ill effects of paddy straw burning, and my government had launched a comprehensive awareness drive during 2018 and 2019, spending Rs 20 crore on this each year. However, till we give the farmers incentives to undertake alternative methods of straw management, they will continue to see straw burning as an easy way to clear the fields for wheat sowing.
What stops the state government from discontinuing power subsidy, or any other subsidies being extended to the farmers who put their paddy fields on fire?
Our farmers are already in a bad financial shape, with the MSP not enough to meet the increasing expenditure incurred in cropping. The subsidies we are giving are aimed at alleviating some of their problems and helping them and their families to survive. Withdrawing subsidies is just not a solution. We need to incentivise them not to burn the paddy residue and also to shift towards alternative crops.
Isn’t the financial incentive to prevent stubble burning at odds with the diversification drive?
Crop diversification and straw management are two different issues, so let us not mix them up. During kharif season 2019, we were able to successfully diversify about two lakh hectares towards maize, cotton, basmati [rice] and other crops. But it’s obvious that the entire state can never be shifted to other crops, nor can the shift happen overnight. Till it does, we need to support the farmers through compensation for the additional cost incurred in stubble management. Also, let us not forget that the success of diversification sustainability depends on proper support price and procurement of the crops by the government of India, on the pattern of wheat and paddy.
How do you see the role of various farmers’ organisations?
Unfortunately, most farmers’ organisations have political affiliations and function in accordance with those. But they have to realise the damage they are causing by their attitude to the state and its people. They need to rise above politics and adopt a positive approach to the problem of scientific management of paddy residue, and realise that burning stubble not only causes air pollution and severe human health problems but also causes soil health quality to deteriorate.
What is the state government planning for the alternative use of the paddy stubble?
There are many alternative uses for paddy stubble, such as power plants, biogas plants, animal fodder and bio-ethanol. We have already initiated several measures and continue to explore others. My government has facilitated the setting up of nine power plants based on paddy residue, with a capacity of 72 MW. Similarly, biogas plants based on paddy residue are also being encouraged under the Investment Policy, 2017. We have also announced a prize of $1 million to any person giving a non-mechanical solution for management of paddy residue, which is technically feasible and economically viable to take care of the huge volume of about 15 million tonnes of paddy residue.
There is a study carried out by the Union ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare which states that Punjab contributed 83% of harmful emissions from stubble burning in 2018.
The Supreme Court had, on November 15, recorded that agricultural burning added only 4% to the environment pollution of Delhi. It is also a fact that Punjab contributes 26% rice to the national kitty and is a major contributor to the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the National Food Security Act, 2013. For the record, the production was 191.36 lakh tonnes in 2018 and the estimated production this year is 185 lakh tonnes. With Punjab’s paddy production much higher than Haryana and UP, it is natural that the emission from paddy residue burning here would be more.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.